Liberian Shipper Fined $1.3 Million for Dumping Oily Bilge Water
TRENTON, New Jersey, September 3, 2009 (ENS) - A Liberian shipping company was fined $1 million today in federal court in Trenton for using falsified records to conceal the discharge in international waters of untreated oily bilge water from one of its cargo ships, the U.S. Justice Department announced.

Dalnave Navigation Inc., a Liberian company with offices in Athens, Greece, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Peter Sheridan immediately after pleading guilty to pay a fine of $1 million, the maximum fine allowable for the two counts which the company admitted.

The company also agreed to make a $350,000 community service payment to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to be used for the protection, scientific study and restoration of marine and aquatic resources in New Jersey or its off-shore coastal region.

On Tuesday, the chief engineer and second engineers aboard the Dalnave vessel M/V Myron N were sentenced by Judge Sheridan to three months of probation with the condition that they serve one month in a community corrections facility.

Panagiotis Stamatakis, the chief engineer, and Dimitrios Papadakis, the second engineer, both of Greece, pleaded guilty on July 16, 2009, to using falsified records that concealed improper discharges of untreated bilge waste from the M/V Myron N.

The eight-count indictment alleged that crew members of the M/V Myron N, at the direction of Stamatakis and Papadakis, dumped oil-contaminated waste directly overboard into the sea between March 2004 and September 2008.

The dumping of oily waste violates the MARPOL Protocol, an international treaty regulating the handling and disposal of oil waste at sea.

The government's investigation began in September 2008, when Coast Guard inspectors conducted an examination of the M/V Myron N, following the ship's arrival in Gravesend Anchorage, New York and then at the Port of Newark, New Jersey.

Ships dumping oily water can be seen from space. In this satellite image, the small bright spot on the edge of the eddy is a ship dumping oily water from its bilges off the coast of Baja California. 1994. (Photo courtesy NASA)

Engine room operations on board large oceangoing vessels such as the M/V Myron N generate large amounts of waste oil and oil-contaminated bilge waste. International and U.S. laws prohibit the discharge of waste containing more than 15 parts per million of oil and without onboard treatment by an oily water separator a required pollution prevention device. Once the oily water has been run through the separator, the water can be safely discharged into the ocean. The remaining oily waste must be disposed of onshore.

The law also requires that all overboard discharges be recorded in an oil record book, a required log which is regularly inspected by the U.S. Coast Guard.

The inspections uncovered evidence that crew members had installed pipes to bypass the ship's pollution control system and pump untreated bilge directly into the ocean.

During their guilty pleas, Stamatakis and Papadakis admitted that they knowingly failed to record those discharges in the ship's official oil record books and presented the false record books to the Coast Guard.

"The Coast Guard is committed to working with the maritime industry and federal, state, and local law enforcement partners, to protect the U.S. maritime environment from individuals who pollute our waters," said Rear Admiral Joseph Nimmich, commander of the First Coast Guard District in Boston.

"Shipping companies need to know that the cost of polluting our oceans will be steep, bad for business and bad for their crews," said Ralph J. Marra Jr., acting U.S. attorney for the District of New Jersey. "At the same time, we are pleased that the company seeks to make amends with a significant criminal fine and a community service payment that directly benefits the New Jersey coastal environment."

"Congress passed the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships to prevent the oceans and waterways from being used as dumping grounds for waste oil," said William Lometti, Special Agent-in-Charge of EPA's criminal enforcement office in New York. "We will continue to work closely with our counterparts to vigorously prosecute those who try to conceal these illegal acts."

While $1 million may seem like a large fine, the fines in similar cases have been even larger.

In April 2009, Consultores De Navegacion, a Spanish company that operates the M/T Nautilus, an ocean-going chemical tanker ship, pleaded guilty to the overboard discharge of oil-contaminated bilge waste on the high seas and was fined $2.5 million for criminal violations.

In April 2008, The National Navigation Company, an Egyptian shipping company that operates the M/V Wadi Al Arish and five other vessels, pleaded guilty to 15 felony counts and was sentenced to pay a $7.5 million fine the largest ever for a case involving the falsification of ship logs to conceal deliberate pollution from ships in the Pacific Northwest.

In December 2005, MSC Ship Management Limited, a Hong Kong-based container ship company, was fined $10.5 million in connection with criminal charges of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence, false statements and violation the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships in Boston Harbor. This is the largest fine in which a single vessel has been charged with deliberate pollution and the largest criminal fine paid by a defendant in an environmental case in Massachusetts history.

Joseph A. Poux Jr., assistant chief of the environmental crimes section for the U.S. Department of Justice told the New Jersey Star-Ledger in May that the amount of oil illegally dumped by oceangoing ships is more damaging to the environment than accidental oil spills. Some estimates, he said, put shipboard oily waste-dumping at more than 88 million gallons a year.

Copyright Environment News Service, ENS, 2009. All rights reserved.